TOKYO -- Up and down the devastated northeast coast, survivors prayed and communities came together Sunday to mark six months since the massive earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, a date that changed everything for them and their country.
As the world commemorated the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, Japanese parents hung colorful paper cranes for their lost children and monks chanted in front of smashed buildings. Thousands marched in the streets to demand that the country abandon nuclear power because of damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
At precisely 2:46 p.m., they stopped and observed a minute of silence.
The magnitude-9.0 earthquake produced the sort of devastation Japan hadn't seen since World War II. The tsunami that followed engulfed the northeast and wiped out entire towns. The waves inundated the Fukushima plant, triggering the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
Some 20,000 people are dead or missing. More than 800,000 homes were damaged, many destroyed. The disaster crippled businesses, roads and infrastructure. The Japanese Red Cross Society estimates that 400,000 people were displaced.
Half a year later, there are physical signs of progress.
Much of the debris has been cleared away, or at least organized into big piles. In the port city of Kesennuma, many of the boats carried inland by the tsunami have been removed. Most evacuees have moved out of high school gyms and into temporary shelters or apartments.
The supply chain problems that led to critical parts shortages for Japan's auto and electronics makers are nearly resolved. Industrial production has almost recovered to pre-quake levels.
But beyond the surface is anxiety and frustration among survivors facing an uncertain future. They are growing increasingly impatient with a government they describe as too slow and without direction.
Masayuki Komatsu, a fisherman in Kesennuma, wants to restart his abalone farming business. But he worries about radiation in the sea from the still-leaking Fukushima plant and isn't sure if his products will be safe enough to sell. He said officials are not providing adequate radiation information for local fishermen.
"I wonder if the government considers our horrible circumstances and the radiation concerns of people in my business," said Komatsu, who also lost his home.